“The words ‘isolation’ and ‘isolation’ come from the Latin for ‘isle,'” Maeve Kennedy said in Artistic newspaper. But the island civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean were by no means closed. As this new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge shows, they were remarkably open to outside influence – to foreign materials, skills, fashions and legends. Focusing on the classical culture of Crete, Sardinia and Cyprus, the show demonstrates that “the sea united rather than divided” these civilizations, allowing for significant cultural cross-pollination. Bringing together around 200 sites, from the Neolithic to the Roman period, it shows that the inhabitants of the three islands tried to “explain their tangled histories” through stories – even if, as in the case of Sardinia’s Nuragic civilization, they had no system writing. Among the “splendid loans” on display is a Cypriot statue of a “goddess rising from the sea” believed to have influenced the work of Sandro Botticelli. Birth of Venus; some “bright” bronze statuettes from Sardinia; and an image of a dolphin – a “sacred” animal that “represented friendship” – found in Crete.

The show is “packed” with “mesmerizing” exhibits, Alastair Sook said The Daily Telegraph. We see bronze statuettes of a “four-eyed warrior and horned archer” created “five or six millennia ago” in Nuragic Sardinia. The culture received this name for its own nurage, the “conical stone towers” that characterized its architecture; these structures were so “strange” that later they were considered “houses of witches”. Best of all is the “exquisite” art of Minoan Crete, represented here by objects including a “surprisingly well-observed” copper alloy crawling infant figure and a crab-shell cup from about 1900 BC. The show is filled with good tidbits, but more could have been done to “turn a series of impressive archaeological finds into a notebook, less precipitous, narrative.”

It hardly matters, said Laura Cumming The observer, when the exhibition presents us with miracle after miracle. Consider, for example, an “exquisite” small bronze ship created in Sardinia between 1000-700 BC, its mast “crowned with a heraldic bird” and its prow resembling a bull’s head. Cyprus, we learn, even had “its own terracotta army,” represented here by statues of “warriors riding at dawn on horse-drawn chariots.” There is an iron archer “raising his quivering bow” who could have been Giacometti. “You’ll see Picasso and Brancusi at every turn, and the origins of modern sculpture go back millennia.” To call these unusual items “revealing” would be an understatement. Indeed, “I have hardly seen anything like them.”

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (01223-333230, fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk). Until June 4


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